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"You runnin', boy?" the old man asked, rocking comfortably in his chair under the shade of the porch.
Shannon glanced up at from his seat on the gas station's steps. Of all the places he'd expected to find trouble this hole in the ground station hadn't been one of them. A sweat thick with fear added to the dampness of his T-shirt, already soaked from the day's heat.
Shannon tried to play it cool. "Why do you ask that?" he said.
The old man cackled. "I seen a lot of people in my days, but few as guilty looking as you."
Shannon felt the weight of the .45 automatic hidden in his jacket pocket and drew comfort from it. The station was smack dab in the middle of nowhere; if he had to he could kill the old man and leave him for the rats.
As if reading his thoughts the old man spoke again. "It don't matter none to me what ya did. I just like to know my customers. Ain't a lot else to do out here, in case you hadn't noticed." The old man turned his dim green eyes on Shannon. "Besides you don't look like no killer."
Shannon forced a smile. "How can you tell that?"
"Don't know. Just a good judge of character, I guess."
Shannon's trembling handed produced his wallet from the right pocket of his jeans. "How much do I owe for the gas and the beer?"
"It's on the house." the old man smiled, showing rows of yellow teeth. "I'll tell you though, ain't nothin' in this world you done worth headin' off into them hills. Ain't nobody ever came back from them."
"You trying to scare me?" Shannon stood dusting off his jeans.
"No," the old man answered, "just tellin' ya the truth. The Coyote's up there. It don't like people very much. If ya go, ya ain't comin' back neither."
"We'll see about that." Shannon said. The old man was crazier than Hell. He felt foolish for considering him a threat. This guy probably couldn't even figure out how to use the phone on his own let alone call the cops.
Shannon walked to his car beside the pumps and started to get in. "You'll be sorry ya didn't listen boy." The old man called after him. Shannon got in and slammed the door behind him. He fired up the Dodge's ancient engine and tore off spinning tires, leaving a cloud of dust behind him. He looked in the rearview mirror at the old man still sitting calmly on the station's porch and shuddered. The guy really was crazy.
Shannon drove up the winding road into the hills and out into the desert. It wasn't until hours after nightfall that he slowed down, pulling off the unpaved roadway. No one would ever find him out here, he assured himself. He popped the trunk and walked around the car to gather what he'd need. He got a sleeping bag, a small tent, and a backpack of supplies, and set off on foot into the night.
The sounds of the desert unnerved him. Shannon had grown up in the city and hated the outdoors. He hoped this first camping trip forced upon him by his flight would not prove to be his last. When he'd put several miles between himself and the car, he stopped. Too tired to bother with the tent, he unrolled his sleeping bag and stretched out under the stars.
As he looked up into the clear sky above, he prayed. with all his heart and soul for forgiveness. Nine days out of ten, he did not believe in God, but tonight he needed God to be real for only God could help him now. He hadn't meant to murder anyone, but when he had walked in on Allison and her old boyfriend he'd lost it. She was, had been, his world. Sure, their marriage had had problems, most folks do but never had he dreamed she'd cheat on him.
Shannon rolled over onto his side pulling his knees to his chest, as he heard her screams inside his head. He saw the blood on the sheets of their bed and began to weep.
A voice soft and musical called to him from the darkness. The words were too quiet to make out but it sounded like Allison's voice. He sat straight up on his sleeping bag, his .45 in his hand as his heart pounded inside his chest.
The voice called again, a little louder. He fished around in his backpack searching blindly for his flashlight. Finally, he found it and pulled it free. He flipped on the light, shining it over his surroundings. "Who's there?" He called out to the sand.
A woman stepped from the shadows. Her skin was pale and her hair a flaming red. She wore no clothing. The nipples of firm breast were hard and protruding. He stared at he in disbelief.
"Allison?" He whimpered.
"Come," she whispered, "Come and be rewarded for your sins." She beckoned to him with a slight wave of her hand.
"What?" Shannon blurted out, growing angry. "Did that crazy old man send you up here?" He pointed the gun at her. "Get the Hell out of here now, lady, or you won't live to see the sunrise." He threatened.
She dropped to her knees, cupping her breasts in her hands. "Am I not what you wanted?" She asked.
Shannon pulled the trigger. The first bullet struck her sternum sending her toppling over backwards. Shannon rose to his feet drawing closer to her. Something
had snapped within him again. He emptied the clip into her body. The corpse jerked as each round tore into her supple flesh. The gun clicked five times before he realized it was empty. He tossed it aside, standing over her as parched sand drank deeply of the red liquid spilling onto it. Fresh tears streamed down Shannon's face.
She rolled over and stared up at him. "That wasn't very nice," she hissed. Shannon gawked as she rose to her feet and pressed her body against his own. She reached out with a bloody hand brushing away his tears. Her hand turned ever so slightly to bring her nails into contact with his skin. She raked long, deep tracks down his cheek. Shannon howled slapping her hand away.
Her form shimmered before his eyes, changing into something far from human. Her back hunched as the joints of limbs changed into an animal like posture. Thick reddish brown hair blossomed, covering every inch of her skin. Her face elongated into a snout full of razor teeth. She growled, a sound like thunder in the silence of the desert night, dropping to all fours.
Shannon turned, running as fast as he could away from the creature. It loped after him drawing closer with each stride until it pounced. It hit him dead on between his shoulders sending them both rolling along the sand. "Please, God! No!" Shannon screamed. The beast sat astride him, its teeth at his neck. He felt its hot breath on his face. Pain shot through his chest like fire. His body spasmed as if in the throes of passion then lay still. Blackness over took him.
A day later, the old man and sheriff Terry found his body. He was still very much alive. Terry looked into his the glazed over eyes and said, "What the Hell do think happened to him?"
"She ate his evil, sheriff." the old man answered, "Ain't nothin' left of him now, I reckon'."
Terry looked at the old man and shook his head. "Give me a hand would ya? We best be gettin' to a hospital."
As the pair lifted Shannon's catatonic shell and carried him towards the patrol car, the old man mumbled, " Should've listened, boy. Ya'd have gotten off easier even if they'd fried ya."
First published at The Swamp, Issue 5, 2002.
Copyright © 2002 by Eric S. Brown.